TW: This piece is about sexual assault and rape. I don’t name most people in this piece because of the circumstances of the relationships and sexual violence.
A friend raped me the summer before my senior year at Vassar.
A. came to sleep in my room because she was drunk and adamant on not being alone. I’d known her for 3 years, and she was one of my closest friends. We were both damn thirsty, but we had joked about how we’d never have sex. I told her I wasn’t attracted to her anyway, and she said she could do better.
She didn’t seem to remember or care about those conversations.
She asked to have sex, and I said no. She took off her clothes and moved closer to me on the bed. She said it would be fun. I eventually gave in, it was only sex after all.
She left as soon as it was over. I got up to play a game of Dota despite it being 4 in the morning. I yelled my frustrations with myself at a kid who lost the game for my team: I told him to kill himself and bawled.
I got in the shower and scrubbed so hard that the loofah fell apart. I went back to my room and took the blankets and sheets off the bed. I tossed and turned on the mattress for an hour before getting up to play more Dota. I only stopped when I received a temporary ban for bad behavior; by then it was 6 in the afternoon and I got dressed to go for a walk through the heavy rain.
I felt a loss of control of my body that night, and I wanted some ideal of sex that would make me forget. I conflated this idea of perfect sex with safety and happiness; I slept with anyone that would have would have me in pursuit of that.
The second semester of my senior year I had a class with C. We’d spoken sporadically up to that point, but she told me she didn’t want to be more than friends. We usually sat next to each other and talked about random shit going on in our lives. She told me that I reminded her of her older brother.
For one of our class assignments, C. wrote about how she’d been raped that last summer. I told her I’d be there to talk about it if she ever wanted someone to listen. She hugged me tight and thanked me for being there for her.
In March I picked her up from the train station after she came back from Spring Break. I took her to the grocery store and then we went back to my apartment to bake some special brownies.
We stumbled through the process and had no idea how strong they’d end up, so we each had one and started playing Super Smash Bros. We didn’t feel shit, so after an hour we each had one more. We still didn’t feel shit, so we had another one.
The high blindsided us. We were both tripping out and barely able to move. I told her she should just spend the night because she was too high to walk home. She agreed and cautiously got into bed with me.
I cuddled her for a bit and asked if I could kiss her. She said no, but I kept cuddling her. I felt her shaking and rubbed her arm. She was holding it over her crotch, and I tried to touch her. She pushed me away. When I felt her shaking again, I tried again, and she pushed me away again.
I rolled over and fell asleep facing away from her. I slept soundly, completely unconcerned that C. probably wanted to yell and cry and shower off the filth from being next to me.
The next morning she left without saying much. I sent her a text saying I was sorry about trying to touch her. She didn’t respond. At the end of the day, I sent her another text begging her to forgive me.
She responded, “You’re the reason I can’t trust people.”
Since that incident, I have worked on being a better man and feminist. I tried to teach my middle school students about consent in little ways: I’d tell boys they couldn’t even playfully touch the girls without permission and I encouraged the girls to assert themselves when boys tried to shut them down. I told my younger sister that no one, including our parents, could touch her without her permission.
Yesterday a guy friend at the gym pointed out a woman working out in tights and a sports bra. “Damn, bro. She’s got big tits.” He chuckled and smiled at me.
Moments like that with my friend have stood out to me since becoming a victim. I see the casual claim to another’s body and being, and it makes my skin crawl with old nightmares.
When I told him he shouldn’t be staring at her he responded, “Looking doesn’t hurt her.”
I grew up thinking that the men who committed sexual assault of any sort are evil. No one ever told me that rape is most often an assault between friends. I never paid sexual assault any mind because I thought of myself and my friends as good men that would never commit such violence.
People have told me that the things I say about consent and treating women with respect are important and that they’re glad I’m using my place as a man to speak on this issue. The young women that I taught thanked me for encouraging them to speak up and shutting down young men who tried to silence them.
It doesn’t feel like enough, though.
I don’t know how to reconcile the person that has been a victim, the person that makes others feel safe, and the person that has inflicted violence.
I never thought that I could be all of these at once, but I know that I want to be better than the person that did inflict violence. This change isn’t about my wanting to earn forgiveness or be a better feminist.
This is about being a better man for myself, and because I don’t want anyone to suffer through feeling a loss of ownership of their body. That big change starts with little moments of discomfort and confrontation and teaching so that everyone learns to value consent.
An earlier version of this piece was previously published on the author’s personal website, marcosdleon.com
Photo credit: Pixabay